What’s the news?
Samsung Electronics, unveiled its latest phone Galaxy S4 with a bigger screen and several eye catching features in New York last night. Galaxy S4, pitched as a lighter, thinner and faster device than its rivals, is the latest addition to Samsung’s hugely popular S series.
Why is it a big deal?
For two reasons.
One, it has a lot of cool, new features, that has wowed some analysts already.
Two, – and the more interesting reason – Samsung’s ongoing battle with Apple. Some would consider the debate settled. Last year, Samsung ran past Apple to become the largest smartphone maker. Its market share is 8 percentage points higher than Apple’s. It’s not just about price. Steve Wozniak recently said Apple is “somewhat behind with features in the smartphone business. Others have caught up.”
But some pointers suggest the battle is still on. Apple’s iPhone 5 sold more units than its Galaxy phones in the recent quarter. Samsung’s dominance is seen as being driven primarily by emerging markets, thanks to form factor-based bets, such as the phablet. Apple believes Samsung merely copied its innovations, and the two companies are fighting it out in the courtrooms. And Apple, despite the knocks it took in the market recently, has a much higher valuation than Samsung.
So, the launch has a huge symbolic value. This is the first time that Samsung premiered a global launch in the US. The pre-launch hype, the high-decibel launch, the wide range of features, and the coolness quotient – everything seems to shout, “Hey here’s the knock-out.”
So, what’s so cool about S4?
Smart scroll: Tilt the phone forward or backward while looking at the screen, web pages scroll up or down.
Smart pause: Glance away from the phone while the video is playing, it will pause and resume once you re-focus your eye on the screen.
Air gestures: Use the wave of your hand to move between websites, songs or photographs.
Air view: Hover you finger over, say an email, and you will get a preview of the mail without having to open it. Do that over an album, you get to see the thumbnails.
Dual camera: You can super impose your own image into the scene you are clicking. (In other words, you can activate both front and rear cameras at once)
Drama shot: A burst of 12 shots in a single frame.
The list goes on, which brings us to the next question.
Does this mean Samsung has gone several steps ahead of its rivals?
It’s a tough question to answer. It definitely has a lot of features. But that says nothing about how many will be used. Besides, not all these features are new. You could have downloaded some of them as third party apps. (For example, apps for Samsung Optical Reader, which lets you scan a business card to import the details into your contact book, have been around for years.) Still to get these features without having to scour the market is definitely a step in right direction.
But, at the same time, Samsung appears to be running a different race compared to Apple. A quote on the launch event by Michael Gartenberg, a Gartner analyst, summarizes the difference best: If the Apple philosophy is ‘less is more,’ then Samsung’s is ‘more is more.’ Gartenberg was referring to the events, but that could well be about how the two companies approach the devices.
The bottom line: will it succeed?
It comes down to how many people line up to buy the device. Bloomberg gives an estimate from Tong Yang Securities: 60 million people will, this year alone.